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Speakers At CES: From Mainstream To Exotic

From pulsating-sphere speakers to flat on-wall speakers and modestly priced home theater packages, speaker suppliers at CES targeted a range of prices and product niches to generate volume in a flat market.

Final Sound of Ede, Netherlands, demonstrated plasma-TV-friendly wall-hanging electrostatic speakers, which the company said were made practical by two innovations: the use of an outboard subwoofer to deliver low bass; and a central control unit that sits with other audio components and incorporates electrostatic circuitry and an AC power supply. A single cable carries 12-volt AC power and audio signal from the control unit to each speaker.

The products consist of a 48-inch tall model at a suggested $2,000/pair, a 28-inch model at $1,500/pair, a 25-inch-wide center channel at $999, and 200-watt subwoofer. Also: an 18-inch tall model at a suggested $1,000/pair and a new $10,000/pair model, complementing an existing $20,000/pair model. They come with satin-silver anodized frames.

Two other companies — Thiel and start-up Artison — also showed flat on-wall speakers.

Artison displayed plasma-friendly wall-hanging speakers that make a dedicated center channel unnecessary. The Incline Village, Nev.-based company, exhibiting at the Mirage, was founded by Infinity co-founder Cary Christie, who most recently designed Acoustic Research speakers.

Christie’s Portrait Home Theater System consists of flat, wall-hanging front and surround speakers and a powered sub. The design dispenses with a separate center-channel speaker, thanks to a dedicated tweeter/midrange combo in each LR speaker to place dialogue in the center of the screen. The tweeters are toed in and, like the left and right-channel tweeters, go out to 50kHz.

The front speakers retail for $1,500 each, and the surrounds go for $500 each. The 500-watt Bash-amplified sub retails for $1,099. Bracket kits are extra.

Thiel previewed a prototype on-wall speaker called ViewPoint, which uses much of the same technology appearing in the PowerPoint surface-mount loudspeaker and in-wall PowerPlane speakers, including coaxial driver mounting. The ViewPoint is planned for release later in 2003.

In more exotic speakers, Artistic Audio’s $2,399/pair Mobius is said to emulate a pulsating sphere with sound radiating in all directions, as it does in a live concert. Each floor-standing model consists of two 8-inch dome midbass drivers mounted back-to-back in bipolar configuration, with a 1-inch silk-dome tweeter mounted in front of each. Each tower also houses an 8-inch side-firing subwoofer.

Blue Springs, Mo.-based Artistic plans bookshelf and ceiling-mounted versions.

More Mainstream: Less exotic, yet still sophisticated, designs came from Intelligent Audio, Thiel, KEF, Proficient Audio Systems and MB Quart.

Intelligent Audio’s IA-643 powered subwoofer incorporates technology that enables the system’s crossover and equalization to adjust automatically to a room’s acoustics. It incorporates four 12-inch woofers and a 2,000-watt amp. Pricing was unavailable.

Quart’s new seven-speaker Vera series uses furniture-grade cabinetry with curved walls, D’Appolito driver arrays for good dispersion, 3-inch voice-coil formers for high power handling. The series consists of a tower, two bookshelfs, a center channel, and a powered sub. Pricing was unavailable.

Thiel’s newest Coherent Source speaker, the CS2.4, is a three-way, floor-standing speaker system at a suggested $3,900/pair. It features an improved coincident tweeter/midrange driver array in which the two drivers’ diaphragms share the same voice coil. The design uses a mechanical crossover between the midrange and tweeter diaphragms to eliminate the usual electrical crossover network. As a result, said designer Jim Thiel, “We can achieve a level of performance normally reserved for higher priced speakers.” The design was first used in the CS2.3.

The mechanical crossover also contributes to improved phase coherence and uniform frequency response.

Proficient’s AW500TT outdoor speaker features dual-voice-coil woofer and twin pivoting tweeters to deliver uniform stereo dispersion from a single speaker throughout the listening area. It retails for $225 each.

For its part, KEF added a dedicated dipole surround to its high-end Reference series at a suggested $6,000/pair. The 206DS features extended frequency response to 55kHz, boundary compensation circuitry, and Uni-Q point-source concentric woofer and tweeter.

Other new speakers are coming from B&W, Polk, Mission, and MTX. Here’s what they’re offering:

B&W: A pair of powered subs both feature 1000-watt amps. The $2,200 ASW800 comes with 12-inch driver. The $3,000 ASW850 comes with 15-inch driver. Details were unavailable.

Mission: For its 25th anniversary, the company plans two special edition versions of its 780 compact monitor and 782 tower. Enhancements include a new microfiber dome tweeter and midrange and woofer drivers using over-cured ceramic material to improve the stiffness to mass ratio, yielding improved clarity, smoothness and transient response, the company said. Pricing and availability weren’t available at press time.

MTX: Mitek’s first MTX-brand home theater speaker package, the $249-suggested HTB1, features four two-way satellites with 0.5-inch tweeter and 3-inch woofer, a single-tweeter/dual-woofer center channel, and compact 50-watt 8-inch subwoofer.

Among a quartet of new powered subs, the MTX brand is offering a model with 250-watt Class D amplification. The subs retail for a suggested $249, $399, $499, and $749.